Information about U.S. copyright law is widely available, but unfortunately so is misinformation. Three principles in U.S. copyright law that often require clarification are:
- The notion of automatic protection
- Copyright registration with the U.S. Copyright Office
- The use of the copyright symbol, ©
The discussion below assists in clarifying misinformation about U.S. copyright law.
In 1989 the U.S. copyright law changed regarding automatic protection, copyright registration and use of the copyright symbol. This may be largely the reason these three concepts remain misunderstood even today. These changes were implemented in order for the U.S. to join the leading copyright treaty, the Berne Convention, on 1 March 1989. The U.S. is now one of the 176 countries that adhere to the Berne Convention and provides the Convention’s minimum copyright provisions in its own copyright act.
Automatic Protection Under U.S. Copyright Law
What are the steps to acquiring copyright protection in the U.S.? Once you create an original work and write it on paper, musically notate it, or save it on your computer or a data stick, the work has immediate and automatic copyright protection. As of 1989, you don’t need to register the work or deposit a copy of it with the U.S. Copyright Office, or use the copyright symbol.
Once a work is automatically protected in the U.S., it’s protected in all countries that are members of the Berne Convention (currently 176, including the U.S.). Click to see further information about the Berne Convention and international copyright law.
Copyright Notice in U.S. Copyright Law
You’re no longer required to use the well-known copyright symbol, ©, or include a copyright notice on your work. However, doing so is recommended. It reminds people that copyright exists in your work and may deter some unauthorized uses of it. Your copyright notice may also include your contact information to make it easier for people to reach you to ask permission to use your work. For more information about the international copyright symbol and to properly use it, click here.
Copyright Registration Under U.S. Copyright Law
U.S. copyright law no longer requires registration or deposit of your work. However, doing these things provides certain benefits if you ever have to enforce your rights.
- Registration is necessary if you’re a U.S. citizen or legal resident with a work first published in the U.S. and you want to initiate a copyright infringement lawsuit.
- If you register within three months of creating the work, you will have a legal presumption that your copyright is valid, and if you are successful you may receive special statutory damages without having to prove any fiscal harm, as well as attorney fees.
- Once your work is registered, those who want to use your work will be able to find information about it in the records of the U.S. Copyright Office and ask your permission to use your work.
For a primer on U.S. copyright law, see our online course U.S. Copyright Law.
To further enhance your knowledge about both U.S. domestic and global copyright law and gain practical strategies to help you answer copyright questions in your enterprise
and lower copyright risk, see our Copyright Leadership Certificate.